- by Brent DiCrescenzo Contributor
A twisted barbed wire sign spans the entrance to the Ben Elektra Kibbutz in Metulla, Israel. It reads: "And\n ...
A twisted barbed wire sign spans the entrance to the Ben Elektra Kibbutz in Metulla, Israel. It reads: "And Justice for All." There, in the country's northernmost town, pinched by Lebanon, and set in a valley as arid and colorless as an Anton Corbijn photo, my brothers and I assembled compact discs for Elektra Records, far from the reach of cable modems and CDRWs.
After long days of picking rare bloodberries from barbed bushes for the screened St. Anger covers, which Lars assured us during his weekly motivational videos would only drive hard copy sales, I stripped my soiled black overalls, checked the bunks for banana spiders and sand ants, and settled in to read a tattered copy of Karl "Geezer" Marx and Frederick "Freddi" Engels' Metal Manifesto. Few historians care to document the period in the early 1850s when the pair, influenced by the heart-wrenching blue-collar poems of Bob Seger, abandoned the Bund der Gerechten, shaved their beards, applied eye-silver and rouge, and produced a series of simpler, populist manifestos.
Often, I found myself reading the first line by Zippolight, unable to proceed further, lulling myself to sleep with its mantra:
"A spectre is haunting Metal - the spectre of Metallica."
Decades removed from its writing I didn't find the assertion particularly leveling or insightful. Rather, I was amused by its irony. Originally, Marx and Engels had hoped to shock their staid, academic readers with imagery of the undead, as with the Pushead-inked "Red Monsta" devouring Europe on the cover to their earlier Communist Manifesto. Now the word "spectre" struck me only as a reminder that Metallica had long given up the ghost. The manifesto remained only a document of arrogance and comedy. Marx continued, "Metallica is already acknowledged by all Rock powers to be itself a power." And yet, when MTV recently bestowed Metallica with "Icon" status, they could only dredge up Kelly Osbourne, Ja Rule, Sum 41, Godsmack, Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne, Limp Bizkit, Lisa Marie Presley, and Snoop Dogg in tribute.
Time had only made the rest of the text increasingly contradictory and meaningless. Marx and Engels had seen Metal as the antisocial soundtrack that could topple pop for the hearts of the young. "Pop has converted the guitarist, the songwriter, the drummer, the man behind the boards, into its paid laborers," they vented. "The Major Labels cannot exist without continually revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relation between fans and artists."
I read that last line while seated in a mule cart heading toward the Cardboard Folding Hut. Behind me, shimmering cylinders of stacked St. Anger discs stood in tight rows, an electrical current coursing through them for defense. I snapped the book shut, sickened by the absurdity. If only Marx had lived to see the sides flip over a dwindling battle line. For the first time, a technological advance-- MP3s and digital downloading-- spelled victory for the proletariat. File-sharing had become as anti-establishment as Marx had envisioned metal sounding. And Metallica, Marx's metal champion, had dropped an iron firewall between their music and their fans, who, despite their revolutionary ripping, were, for the most part, bourgeoisie boys choosing bands based on how the logos looked protractor-scratched into study hall desks. We kibbutz workers, who lived here by choice, manufacturing Metallica CDs, faced time in the Lightless Cell if found touching or "experiencing" St. Anger before its shipping date. Yet James Hetfield seemed to always sing about being locked inside a Lightless Cell as a badge of honor. Irony upon irony upon irony. Then again, Marx and Engels did grow their beards back and move on to more ambitious projects.
A banana spider bit into Ktulu the Mule's heel. The animal reared. The cart spilled its contents, the CDs and myself, into the dust. A safety cut the electrical field protecting St. Anger. As the cart master attempted to rein the bucking animal, I slipped a disc into my overalls.
After lights out (or "enjoy the black" as it was called), my bunkmates and I listened to the disc for which we had so diligently worked. What an utter mess. I saved 300 boxtops of Of Wolf and Man Cereal and bought a ticket to Israel for this? Lars Ulrich had taken the return to "real Metal" quite literally, playing a drumset consisting of steel drums, aluminum toms, programmed double kicks, and a broken church bell. The kit's high-end clamor ignored the basic principles of drumming: timekeeping.
Fittingly, Ulrich's scrapyard racket rang senselessly like quickening, imploding industry under filtered, stream-of-cliché riffing. The gimmick overwhelmed entire songs, chiming hollowly over all else. Hetfield and Hammett's guitars underwent more processing than cat food. When they both speedstrummed through "St. Anger", and most other movements, H&H; seemed to overwhelm each other with different, terrible noise. A bevy of pedals-- including the decidedly un-metal wah-wah-- jingled conspicuously like a massive charm bracelet... I mean, a string of skulls. A string of iron skulls.
A dry, crackling blooze melody squeezed out by Hammett on "Some Kind of Monster" brought to mind the time I used my practice amp as a stool in hanging a Ride the Lightning poster over my cot. The amp teetered and toppled, sending my foot right through the speaker cone. From then on I could only produce sounds exact to those on "Some Kind of Monster". I just never thought to release them during the kibbutz's mandatory "riffstorming" sessions monitored by Hetfield via satellite from his motorcycle factory. Bob Rock's bass neither bobbed nor rocked; it simply hid like an undulating grey amoeboid of sound, much like the web of hate pent inside the mind of the "Invisible Kid".
"Invisible Kid" towered as an example of Metallica's new alloy of ineptitude. In the video feeds streaming throughout the mess hall, Hetfield repeatedly reminded us of the cathartic, psychological process behind St. Anger. This implied a personal, emotional vent. However, Hetfield can only convey feeling through the persona of the implied "invisible kid" who cowers from parents and rejection in every song, mirrored in the bedrooms of their audience. Such juvenile confessionals as, "I hurt inside/ I hide inside/ But I'll show you," and, "Mama, why's it rainin' in my room," sound ridiculous coming from the mouth of a 40 year-old man. Is this how he talks to his shrink?
These muscle car confessionals and jerky, rough-edged transitions sounded not so much like metal, but Bruckheimer emo. Like Tim Kinsella, Hetfield found word pleasure in nursery puns such as "purify/pure if I" and "ominous/I'm in us." When "Frantic" cut from the grunting, "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle" refrain and shifted into the cooed "keep on searching" breakdown, it smelled strongly of sloppy pseudo-virtuoso bands like The Jazz June or Spitalfield. Emo bands found the simple process of merely moving from quiet to loud to be breathtaking. They wrote songs where beauty and melody was assumed on the count of clean guitar and picking chords, despite the fact that the two guitars had no knowledge of each other. In Metallica's case, the result was somehow worse for sounding so calculated and plotted in ProTools. ProTools had never been metal. ProTools never snorted ants up his FireWire from the side of the pool while urinating down a woman's dress. ProTools never inserted the sound of a chainsaw into the opening of "Black Metal" off the album Black Metal. ProTools never burned churches in Norway. And yet, ProTools had a major hand in assembling both "American Life" and "Frantic".
The disc ended as the sun was rising over Syria. Had it lasted that long? My comrades and I looked at each other, stupefied. Our only memory was of forced effects, laughable lyrics, and audio surgical scars. I sat up and began packing my duffel. I'd rather pick bananas. One comrade suggested smuggling the disc out of the kibbutz to leak to the Internet. If Metallica were such proud artists behind their music, unable to both allow downloading and refund money after purchase, then we should warn others. Metallica had become less a band leading a genre than a team soaking up payroll in a second-tier sport. This was NASCAR, WWE. Logos, sneers, mustaches, and beards. Hair grows back, but the Jheri Curl of insincerity, of contradiction, and of compromising a cause never straightens.Back to home